Nessle Bookshelf: Expecting Better by Emily Oster

Why should an expectant mother turn to an economist for guidance on the most burning questions of pregnancy? That's because economists--especially brilliant Harvard-trained ones--are highly trained in analyzing data and sniffing out shoddy research. When Emily Oster, professor and researcher, got pregnant with her first child, the gray areas of pregnancy advice confounded her. Was it one glass of wine that she could drink, or none? Was eating sushi really all that dangerous? And what about all of the decisions she would be expected to make: home birth or hospital? Induction or no induction? Epidural or no epidural? Determined to ground all of the hazy recommendations in good, hard science, Oster undertook the task of analyzing the medical research that has grounded recommendations made to pregnant women. Through this arduous effort, she dispelled many an old wives' tale (turns out that concerns about hair dye during pregnancy are "overblown") but also confirmed some of our darkest haunts of pregnancy (yes, listeria is a real concern, and it can be severely damaging to a fetus). This book is worth a read, especially for the analytical types out there who are looking for some material to balance out the more familiar, "here's what *I* think works" tropes of pregnancy advice books. In fact, Oster makes it clear that she is not giving advice at all; the principle underlying this book is the same one that informs her approach as an economist: armed with data, we are able to make rational choices for ourselves. Our rational choice may be different from our best friend's rational choice, because we value different things. So when you walk away from the doctor's office dizzy over the list of precautions, "no" foods, exercise limitations, and even cat litter-box changing prohibitions, this is the book for you: distill the data alongside Oster, and make a call for yourself.

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